Like any video game loving person who was a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I obviously hold a lot of nostalgia for Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda and the host of household named franchises from that time, but I also have room in my heart for some more obscure selections that might not be seen as “great” games these days. One, if not the most played and never beaten from that time, might just be Ikari Warriors on the NES. I have incredibly fond memories of playing that to death as a little kid — remember, at that time, the Rambo craze was in full effect, be it in movies, cartoons, or action figures, Stallone’s caricature mug was everywhere, and boys were absolutely enamored with the idea of make-believing being a uber powerful machine gun-toting soldier. Even though Ikari Warriors isn’t seen these days with nearly the same amount of love that’s devoted to Mario due to the fact that it just isn’t a good NES game at all, I didn’t know that as a kid. Only later, with the advent of MAME, I learned that my beloved play-a-thon title came from arcades, and hey, that version was even better!
Fast-forward a number of years, the Nintendo Switch is turning out to be one hell of an emulation machine. Arcade and console compilations are cropping up from just about everywhere, and lo and behold, even SNK is throwing their hat in, offering some of their lesser known titles from the pre-King of Fighters era of their 40-year history. The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection includes over a dozen titles, most doubling down on versions, with both arcade and console (NES) options to play, as well as region switching, which changes the often uglier US art for the better Japanese option in the menus and games themselves, as well as uncensoring blood and violence.
The games available on release day include Alpha Mission, Athena, Crystalis, Ikari Warriors, Ikari Warriors 2 (also known as Victory Road), Ikari Warriors 3, Guerrilla War, P.O.W, Prehistoric Island, Psycho Soldier, Street Smart, TNK III, and Vanguard. As a bonus, SNK and NIS America will be offering new games for download as free DLC, starting on December 11th, adding Chopper I, Fantasy, Munch Mobile, Sasuke vs. Commander, Bermuda Triange, Paddle Mania, Zma Wars, World Wars, Beast Busters, SAR: Search and Rescue, and Time Soldiers to the collection. I hadn’t played most of the games from the collection before, and admittedly, they range a lot in terms of playability and how novel they feel in comparison to later arcade games. Some are downright dated and tough to swallow for too long as Street Smart can attest, a game that even though it came out in 1989, two years after the original Street Fighter and controls much better, it doesn’t hold a candle to what would come only a couple of years later. But others like Alpha Mission and Prehistoric Island are competent screen scrolling shooters that are still very fun to play through.
The range of options in this compilation is surprisingly in-depth. You’re able to pick from a handful of screen filters, as well as some different shapes and sizes. The most interesting video addition is the option to play the game in portrait mode, allowing for a bigger and more faithful display shape-wise to what monitors looked in actual arcades from that time. If you’re an owner of a FlipGrip, a Kickstarted accessory for the Switch which serves as a vertical stand for your console, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection will fit right in and looks great in this mode. I’m among the backers for this, but haven’t yet gotten mine, and am now even more anxious to check it out.
For whatever reason — and I’ll assume it’s due to the host of different control schemes from the physical arcade cabinets at the time — the default options can vary wildly from title to title, even between pretty similarly playing tank games, for instance. Thankfully there’s the option to freely change button configurations, so aside from the shock of suddenly having to use triggers to fire off weapons and the right analog stick to, say, aim a turret, you can easily edit and choose a controller map that best suits your tastes.
It goes without saying that these games can be quite difficult given their archaic design and arcade quarter munching mechanic, so it’s nice to have the option to hit continue as much as you want, but the added ability to save state and rewind at the touch of a button are especially nice, since even with infinite checkpoints, some spots can be quite rough and downright cheap to play straight through on a single run. That’s where perhaps the best feature included in this cart comes in, a video mode where you can watch a perfect tool-assisted run through the game and take over playing at any time, or see it go all the way to the end, something I’ve yet to see in any of these retro collections. It’s really neat. On the other hand, being able to do all these things helps show how short most of these can be, the ugly side that most arcade games did their best to hide by forcing you to spend a fortune in quarters in order to battle through them. But that’s where the best part of innovation in technology comes in: we don’t have to do so in the old way anymore if we don’t want to, we get to see all of what a game has to show either way.
As a museum for electronic entertainment relics of the past, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection does an admirable job, curating and bringing to light games from the company’s catalogue that probably haven’t gotten a lot of public attention for decades. The ‘museum’ option in-game is a nice touch too. It plops a timeline for SNK that spans from 1978 until 1990, listing every one of their releases, as well as advertising, concept art, cabinets, newsletter scans, guide books (some of them even including manga pages like Athena’s), and even an exhaustive look at a long “lost” game Tangram Q, a heavily advertised arcade release that never saw the light of day, with pictures and detailed descriptions of how it probably played. A minor nitpick: 95% of the scans are in Japanese and offer no subtitles, which is understandable just seeing the amount of text in these things, but it’s still a bit of a shame.
The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is yet another great package that fits fantastically well on the Switch. The specific time period that was encapsulated by this compilation lives in my heart through some of my fondest personal memories, and it’s great to see the amount of care that has gone into it, like Capcom’s Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection to a degree, although that one had its share of glaring flaws. NIS America is teasing that the games to be added on December 11th are only half of what’s to come, so I’m very much curious to see what else they have in their sleeves that’s not King of Fighters, which frankly, are already plentiful and easy to find elsewhere on the Switch’s growing eShop retro catalog.